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US Move to Lift Arms Embargo in Africa Thwarted
Published on Monday, January 15, 2001 by Inter Press Service
US Move to Lift Arms Embargo in Africa Thwarted
by Thalif Deen
 
UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council has thwarted an attempt by the United States to lift the UN arms embargo against Ethiopia and Eritrea in the wake of a peace agreement signed last month by the two warring nations.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who expressed strong reservations over the proposed US resolution, warned that it was not the appropriate time to resume the flow of weapons to a region still struggling to rebuild its war-ravaged economy.

Annan said that ''silencing the guns'' did not necessarily mean there was peace in the Horn of Africa. ''The two countries face hard work ahead. They will need vision, patience and resources,'' he added.

The Secretary-General has also warned that the humanitarian conditions in both countries ''remain a source of serious concern''. In Eritrea, there are over 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) while Ethiopia has more than 350,000.

''The most critical obstacle to their safe return and the resumption of normal life is the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance in areas along the border,'' he said.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters that Annan had ''signaled his concern that the job is not done - as far as achieving permanent peace that is envisaged in the Security Council resolution''.

On Wednesday the 15-member Security Council decided to postpone action on the US resolution to lift the arms embargo. The decision followed a closed-door discussion on the matter. The Council is expected to resume consultations later.

Eckhard said the proposed resolution, however, is the Security Council's resolution. ''They can take any action that they might, and he (Annan) is not going to interfere in that process,'' Eckhard added.

One of the countries that objected to the resolution is Canada, which has contributed over 550 troops to a new UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) which will oversee the peace agreement.

''It would be better to focus on confidence-building measures at this stage and give the peacekeeping troops a chance to get set up and to establish relationships with people on both sides,'' Canadian Ambassador Paul Heinbecker said.

The Netherlands, which is contributing more than 1,100 troops, has also warned against immediate lifting of the arms embargo.

When the Security Council imposed the arms embargo last May, it said the sanctions will initially last for 12 months ending May this year. But it also said that the ban would be lifted if the two countries stopped fighting. The existing embargo bans the sale or supply to Ethiopia and Eritrea of a wide range of military equipment, including ammunition, military vehicles, paramilitary equipment and even spares.

All ''non-lethal military equipment'', intended solely for humanitarian uses and approved in advance by a Security Council committee, was exempted from sanctions.

The Security Council, which includes key arms suppliers to sub- Saharan Africa, decided to cut off military supplies in order to force the two warring parties to the negotiating table.

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, has delivered at least six fighter aircraft to Eritrea and eight to Ethiopia, all of them in 1998. The Russian-made MiG fighter planes have been deployed in dogfights over sub-Saharan skies.

The United States, another permanent member of the Security Council, supplied four Lockheed C-130 military transports to Ethiopia during 1995-1996. All four were second-hand aircraft provided cost-free under US legislation designated ''Excess Defence Articles''.

According to the UN Arms Register, Ethiopia has also taken delivery of 50 T-55 battle tanks from Bulgaria and 40 from Belarus.

The resolution also bars UN member states from providing technical assistance for the manufacture of weapons or military training related to the armed forces of the two countries.

Meanwhile, UNMEE has deployed over three-quarters of its authorised strength of peacekeepers. As of last week, 71 countries have contributed 3,433 military and 125 civilian personnel. When UNMEE was created last July, the Security Council authorised a peacekeeping force of about 4,200 troops, including 220 military observers.

Besides Canada and the Netherlands, other key troop contributing countries include Jordan, Slovakia, Denmark, Italy, Bangladesh and India.

The political tension between the two African nations has continued since the rebellious province of Eritrea became an independent nation state in May 1993 reducing Ethiopia to the status of a landlocked country. Until its independence, Eritrea was part of Ethiopia. Eritrea's war of independence against Ethiopia lasted about 31 years. Since then, the two countries have been involved in several border disputes.

US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who led a Security Council delegation to the Horn of Africa last year, described the Ethiopian-Eritrean war as one of the worst in Africa.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the conflict was the ''world's largest war'' in 1999 because it involved 250,000 soldiers, tens of thousands of casualties and over 60,000 civilians displaced.

Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun of Algeria, the UN's Special Representative mediating the dispute, said it was ''the most devastating war in Africa'' - in terms of the number of people killed.

Copyright 2001 Inter Press Service

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